Buying a laptop typically demands certain trade-offs, but with the beautifully designed thin-and-light 15-inch PowerBook G4, there's no need to compromise: it delivers portability, performance, and a 15.2-inch (diagonal) display that's great for graphics work, watching DVDs, and just about anything else. Like the 17-inch PowerBook G4, this 15-inch model includes features such as a scrolling trackpad and a Sudden Motion Sensor that protects the hard drive when the laptop is dropped. In addition, the 15-inch PowerBook G4 is among the new fleet of Macs running on Mac OS X Tiger, and it ships with the iLife '05 software suite. Though the excellent software package adds significant value, on a pure hardware basis, the PowerBook G4 comes at a premium: a similarly configured ThinkPad T43, for example, costs $500 less.
The Apple PowerBook's sleek aluminum shell is hard to miss, and the 15-inch model has particularly pleasing dimensions. Measuring just 1.1 inches thick, 13.7 inches wide, and 9.5 inches deep, it is similar in size to the Portable One MX and the ThinkPad T43. At a reasonable 5.6 pounds, the PowerBook G4 weighs about average for a thin-and-light laptop--slightly heavier than the ThinkPad T43 and 0.5 pound heavier than the Portable One MX. Its 0.4-pound AC adapter makes for a total weight that's acceptable for carrying on the occasional trip.
Lift the lid of the 15-inch PowerBook G4, and you'll find the same minimalist design as on its 17-inch sibling: just a power button, a big keyboard framed by stereo speakers, and a large trackpad with a single mouse button. Unlike the lower-end iBook, the PowerBook G4 has a silver case and keyboard that do not pick up finger smudges. Though the keys are a bit shallow, they're wide, and we found them comfortable to use for long stretches of typing; we also loved the keyboard backlighting, which automatically adjusted to changes in ambient light levels. Like on other PowerBook G4s (and now iBooks, too), the generously sized trackpad lets you scroll through long documents and Web pages by dragging two fingers down the pad. The laptop's 15.2-inch (diagonal) TFT wide-screen display is adequately sized for most productivity and entertainment applications, and its vivid 1,280x854 native resolution teamed with the PowerBook's stereo speakers make it a good portable movie theater.
With two USB 2.0 ports; the rare combination of FireWire 400 and 800; a PC Card slot that accepts Type I and II PC cards; and support for DVI, VGA, S-Video, and composite video, the Apple PowerBook G4 can connect to virtually any peripheral, from digital cameras to ProTools hardware. It's equipped with Bluetooth to interface with cell phones, and you can access the Internet via 802.11g Wi-Fi radio, Gigabit Ethernet, or modem. This 15-inch PowerBook G4 also accommodates a neat slot-loading SuperDrive that plays and burns DVDs and CDs. Unlike most Windows laptops, the PowerBook G4 doesn't include a built-in media reader for flash memory cards, though the USB and FireWire ports can usually connect directly to peripherals that use card memory.
The PowerBook G4 now ships with Mac OS X Tiger, highlights of which include the incredibly cool Spotlight search utility and the customizable Dashboard, a collection of handy desktop tools. Our review unit also came bundled with the robust iLife '05 software suite, which includes iPhoto 5.0, iMovie HD, iDVD 5.0, GarageBand 2.0, and iTunes 4.7; the PC equivalent could easily run hundreds of dollars more. The software package does not include the new iWork productivity suite, which costs $79 extra and isn't necessary unless you make a lot of high-end newsletters and presentations.
Priced at $2,299 (as of August 2005), this 15-inch PowerBook G4 features a 1.67GHz processor, 512MB of slowish 333MHz DDR SDRAM (with an open memory slot that provides room for expansion up to 2GB); a zippy 80GB, 5,400rpm hard drive; and ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics with 64MB video memory and Dual Link DVI functionality for use with a high-resolution monitor such as the Apple Cinema Display. In CNET Labs' iTunes tests, the 15-inch PowerBook G4 matched the performance of its 17-inch sibling, which has the same-speed processor and RAM; it ran only 11 percent slower than a PowerMac G4 desktop with a 1.25GHz processor and a faster 7,200rpm hard drive. However, the 15-inch laptop lagged behind both systems when it came to graphics tasks in CNET Labs' Photoshop CS tests and our Unreal Tournament 2004 game test. The 15-inch PowerBook's battery lasted only 2 hours, 42 minutes, or 12 minutes less than that of the 17-inch PowerBook G4, which has a larger, battery-draining screen. Neither model could match the 14.1-inch iBook's 3 hours, 24 minutes; if you're looking to work away from the wall socket for extended periods, the iBook may be the better buy.
The PowerBook G4 ships with an industry-standard one-year warranty that covers parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days--well short of what you'll typically find on the PC side. The $349 AppleCare Protection Plan extends phone support and repair coverage to three years; by way of contrast, you can upgrade most PCs' warranties to three years of support for around $150. Apple does offer online troubleshooting, and its Web forums are a good resource to get tips from other users and download the product's printed manual.
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